The Red Bulls head to Toyota Park this weekend to take on the Chicago Fire for the first 2013 regular season meeting between the two sides. The storied history between the two teams may not possess the same animosity as a D.C. United vs. Red Bulls match, but the long-last series - one that has the Red Bulls looking to gain ground on their 12-22-9 all-time record against Chicago - is bound to be an exciting one when the two kick off Sunday at 5:00 PM on ESPN2.
Although this may be his first season with the club, Red Bulls General Manager Jerome de Bontin is no stranger to the soccer community in Illinois. That much was evident when the Illinois Youth Soccer Association presented him with a Career Achievement Award early last month.
Prior to his move to the Red Bulls front office, de Bontin lived in Chicago for 26 years. As an active member on the United States Soccer Federation Foundation’s Board of Trustees, de Bontin has always made it a point to play an integral part in his local soccer communities.
De Bontin first got involved with the IYSA in 1992 and joined the U.S. Federation Foundation's Investment Committee six years later. He would later climbs the ladder from a seat on the Federation Foundation's board, to the Executive Board, culminating with a role as the Chair of the Development Committee. In 2008, de Bontin stepped down from his position to take over the role of President for AS Monaco, but maintained his involvement with Foundation Investment Committee and continues to serve on this committee today.
“Leaving for AS Monaco was certainly an important moment in my career, but leaving an active role within the Illinois soccer community was extremely difficult,” said de Bontin. “Even though I was miles away, I worked at developing ties between European clubs and organizations, with IYSA and its member clubs, some of which are still active today. I applaud the work of IYSA and its contribution to the growth of the sport, in particular in regards to the inner-city programs that it pioneered with the support of the US Soccer Foundation about a decade ago.”
The IYSA Career Achievement Award is presented annually to a person who has contributed to the growth and development of Youth Soccer. This year’s special event took place during the Illinois Youth Soccer Annual Banquet Awards in Chicago, where over 400 people were in attendance to honor de Bontin. The Red Bulls GM spoke for 45 minutes about player development, the merits of college soccer, and the dangers of "Europeanizing" development programs in the USA.
“It was an honor and a privilege to return to Chicago and speak on behalf of the future of soccer,” de Bontin said. “Everyone within the organization has worked so hard to create opportunities for the youth in the area, and it’s amazing to think how far it has all come ever since I first got involved years ago.”
There’s no question the Red Bulls will be looking to earn three points on the road when the face the Fire Sunday at 5:00 PM in what will be another heated Eastern Conference battle. Fans from both sides will be on hand to root for their teams, and those who will not be in the stands can watch nationally on ESPN2.
Although the outcome of the match remains uncertain until the final whistle, one thing is a definite – the growth of the soccer community in Illinois and beyond is limitless.